“She’s an ex-junkie, an ex-hooker, and she’s still perverse, someone said by way of introduction. Some.. one else, writing program notes to a Richie Havens concert at the L.A Music Center, made the point that a local FM station receives 200 new albums a week and that at most only 50 of them get listened to.
Judee Sill, a first album on Asylum Records, had been one of the 50: “Jesus Was A Cross Maker” had received considerable airplay. Still, in context of the product inflation that bad hit the record business, the prospects of a new singer-songwriter trying to buck the riptide of automatic rejection seemed slight. The album itself featured a cover shot of a long-haired chick with shades and a guitar, more than arresting lyrics, and a style that was bluesy, soft, windy and simple. These were the kind of songs you could imagine listening to in a meadow of Kentucky bluegrass on a lazy August afternoon. There was no desperation; the songs seemed suspended in their own brand of serenity.
And so we met.
“How come you spell Judee with two e’s?"
‘It’s better numerologically all the way around.” said the slight, nervous, 27-year-old girl behind the shades. “I’m a seven. I changed the spelling to ee because it’s like the wind . . . thick with Fate. Maybe what we need is a new female folksinger named Judy Joni.”
“You had a miserable youth?”
‘‘Yeah, I spent most of my youth hiding under a pinball machine in a bar in Oakland. But I have no living relatives left. They all died of natural causes. I guess you’d call alcoholism a natural cause.”
There was wit and sufficient intellectual twists to ask her as a generation sibyl. Most of her songs are about love, sung to an elusive lover.
“Are you nervous on stage?”
“Yes, but lately I’ve come to think of it as manna. It’s the one place I feel comfortable. I use the truth as a shield. It’s the safest defense I can think of.
‘You see, I’m English and Irish. and while my religion is unspeakable, it’s not unsingable. I’m a double Libra with moon in Gemini, Venus in Scorpio and Saturn in mid-heaven. So the ‘elusive lover’ in my songs is really my vision of my animus. Every woman bus an animus; it’s your internal male counterpart, just as every man has an anima. It’s archetypal. You’ll find it in all occult sources. But ‘occult’ is a lower word than what I have in mind. There are seven layers in occult matters. The point is to work your way up. I’m not concerned with astral things because they’re cheap thrills.”
“Jesus Was A Cross Maker” is her favorite song on the album,
“It’s not about Jesus. It’s about the bandit who ripped me off for my heart. I wrote the song to reconcile my lust and my divine love, and somehow I got off singing it, It’s just a fervor I feel rising up.
“Jesus actually was a cross maker, though. Every carpenter shop in his time had its share of cabinets. coffins and crosses. I stumbled across the fact reading Kazantzakis’ The Last Temptation of Christ. Kazantzakis touches my heart more than any other author ever touched my heart.”
In “Crayon Angels” she speaks about phony prophets who ‘stole the only light I knew. And the darkness softly screamed.” while the angels laugh at her in her dreams.
“Phony prophets are astral deceptions. In the song, the angels know I’m hung up in astral deceptions, and they’re laughing at me because they know I’m going to work my way out of it. I don’t know it, of course. I’m only 51 percent sure, but at least I’m leaning on the positive side.”
She’s been married twice.
‘‘My first husband was killed going down the Kern River Rapids on a rubber raft on LSD. My second husband’s still going down the rapids.”
‘‘No. actually, he’s a great musician and a great piano player. His name’s Bob Harris.” And lie gets orchestration credits on the album.
Under- and overcurrents of religion and occultism run through her narratives, and her personal style is unbidden and outfront,
“What’s your concept of evil?”
“Evil, I think, gets joy in doing negative stuff. Not just doing negative things because that’s mostly ignorance. But evil takes joy in it.
‘‘Heroin, for example, has a power all its own, and that’s how it can take people who might otherwise be great people, and turn everything around.
“For three years I had a $150 a day habit, and that’s pretty hard to come up with when you’re living on the streets, I saw what I’d do for it; there was no limit. And I did it with gusto because I wanted to escape my torment and misery, I had three months of incarceration while I was kicking, and sometimes it seemed to be a fight against insurmountable odds. But then I figured if could maintain that kind of habit that long, then the will power I’d need to kick it would be a cinch.
“I see why people got hooked: the opiates afford an exclusive type of relief for people who have a certain quality in their unhappiness. It’s a kind of horror of air on your flesh.
‘‘I love people who are honest about their misery, who don’t try to be slick when they’re really uncomfortable and awkward. It’s a nobility I really love. But heroin, man, my advice is to avoid it at all costs. It can have eternal, astral consequences, too.”
The final lines of the lust song are: Abracadabra. here’s the key to the kingdom See thin the eyes that be behind yours.” What about that?
Abracadabra was originally the term they used in alchemy when they wanted to turn base metals to gold, but that’s the lowest form of alchemy. It was really about reaching to open up your heart and eyes to the Christ spirit within us, and to expand it. Those lines refer to the moment when the bottom drops out of your consciousness, the moment of inspiration. It’s as if you’d just discovered the you behind the crummy you you thought you were stuck with,
‘‘People are reaching for a Renaissance, and they’re looking so hard they’re bound to be deceived by false things and false signs and false prophets. Hut I think it is possible to reach it. I don’t know, but right now I get knocked out by Bach,
Judee signed her album jacket: "If you see a miracle, don’t believe it. Your friend. Judee Sill."
ROLLING STONE/March 2, 1972